Thursday, February 14, 2008
Northern Illinois University
Every parent's nightmare happened again, this time at NIU. My condolences to the students, faculty, and families there.
It's scary in so many ways. From early reports, and from Stephen Karlson's on-the-scene reportage, it sounds like NIU did a whole lot of things right. The police arrived quickly, notifications went out quickly, everybody who could be kept out of the way was. Even with all of that, over twenty people were shot, several fatally. The shooter apparently was a former graduate student, so he knew the campus.
The early tv coverage kept using terms like 'lockdown,' but it's hard to imagine just how that could work on an open, sprawling campus. K-12 schools are often a single building surrounded by a parking lot and/or athletic fields, so it's relatively easy to restrict access to the inside. But most colleges and universities of any size have multiple buildings, many different functions going on simultaneously, and a constantly changing stream of people walking around at any given time. At my college, for instance, it's not unusual to have regular classes, non-credit classes, public programs, and swim meets happening simultaneously. People come and go all the time, and there's absolutely nothing unusual about seeing faces you don't recognize. I see people I don't recognize every single day. It's more like a small city than, say, a high school. How do you lock down a small city?
At larger universities, the problem is even greater. How would you lock down the University of Michigan? You'd half to put half of Ann Arbor in a bubble. It's just not reality.
And even that is all based on the assumption that a lockdown would help. Early reports indicate that the shooter killed himself before the police arrived, and they arrived as quickly as could be asked.
I don't have any answers for this. When I heard the news on the radio on the way home, I stopped thinking like a dean, started thinking like a parent, and had to drive through tears. The kids got some extra hugs tonight, not knowing why.
Sometimes there are no words.
It's simple, really: Arm the faculty. And train them to use their weaponry properly.
So the facilities might have to be upgraded as well...
This semester I am teaching a computer course, which has a metal door and a lock that can not be opened from the outside except with a key. Keys are strictly controlled. Some classrooms have staff/faculty ID card scanners for opening doors. I am very happy no one can just walk into my class unless someone from the inside opens it. This gives me complete control over disruptive late students and some level of safety. The only reason the door and lock are in place is to protect the expensive equipment in the room. Shouldn't every college classroom have this in place regardless of the classroom equipment? This is not going to stop someone from shooting people down in the hallways or outside, but these shooters go for a classroom due to the population inside. The next step will be to have a security guard at every door and metal detectors. Many city high schools have had that in place since the 1980s.
We have had shootings in Federal Courthouses and Prisons, fer cryin out loud. With metal detectors, pass card security, and bars in the windows.
"Prevention" is problematic even in a totalitarian state, so I will ignore it.
The question then becomes "How many are you willing to let die while waiting for "Law Enforcement" to arrive?
Until you are willing to accept trained and armed individuals in the classroom, there will be delay (30 seconds? 10 minutes?) before the response team arrives; and then, depending on the situation, more delay after that. 30 seconds is unacceptable. Too many innocent lives lost.
How many of us have had personal scares with the "more than kooky" disgruntled student?
How many of us even own bullet resistant vests; how many of us are trained and licensed CCL/CHL holders?
How many of our students are trained and licensed CCL/CHL holders?
yet another confused professor